Trouble for Two Recipe Adapters

Feb 282012
 

Food Network fired star Anne Thornton for adapting recipes a little too closely. (Photo: Food Network)

Yes, one of my favorite subjects was in the news again recently: the perils of adapting recipes. Here are two recent developments that affected a cooking show host and a food blogger:

1. Show cancelled because of adapting recipes. The Food Network cancelled the show of TV Chef Anne Thornton because she adapted recipes based on making small tweaks to the recipes of others, apparently.

Media outlets went crazy when the news hit that her show, Dessert First, was not renewed because many of her recipes were “plagiarized” from Martha Stewart and Ina Garten, specifically a German chocolate frosting and lemon bars.

“You take what you learn from them and then you riff on that,”she said in her defense in a story in the UK Daily Mail. “As for lemon squares, there’s only so many ways you can make them, so of course there will be similarities.”

Her comment sounds similar to those I’ve received on this blog. And I don’t necessarily disagree with her, in principle. There really are only so many lemon bar recipes, and is it your job to find the original one? Here’s what I’d say to her: “If you have nothing new to offer about a lemon bar, move on.”

What’s great about the Daily Mail story is that you can see a side-by-side comparison of her frosting recipe and Stewart’s. Scroll down to the end of the article and read the recipes. Clearly, Thornton made a few minor edits. It’s one thing to be inspired from someone else’s recipe and write your own, and another to just tweak a few words and amounts.

That rule you’ve heard, about changing three things in a recipe to make it yours? It didn’t work for her.

I asked on Twitter and Facebook what people thought about Thornton’s recipe writing skills. Here are some of the replies:

Food blogger Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen asked, “Why is it plagiarizing Martha or Ina, not the other 10K people who have published riffs on these?”

Cookbook author Nancie McDermott said (in a series of tweets) the report’s tone was sensational. “It presumes we can & should come up w/Unique NeverB4Seen Creations. Stealing = bad&wrong. But…who created lemon bars? Where? What time? If I could come up with something “new,” why couldn’t another 1 come up with same thing on own?” This stinks of ‘faux-righteous’ outrage. Seldom can we track ’1st Ever!’ And why bother?”

Food blogger and cookbook author Beth Sheresh of Kitchen Mage tweeted, “Nothing is new. Created a recipe from nothing but my head. Found THREE different recipes that were exactly same thing.”

On My Will Write for Food Facebook page, food blogger Amanda McInerny of Lamb’s Ears and Honey wrote, “I just wonder if there isn’t another agenda here. It is a rare and remarkable cook who can come up with a recipe which doesn’t reference some other dish, somewhere in the universe. With the popularity of food books, mags, tv, blogs etc I can’t see this issue going away or being resolved any time soon. …not at all sure that rare and remarkable is what tv execs look for in anything. I suspect they are after looks and marketability to attract the advertisers – it would be nice to think I’m wrong, though.”

2. Food blogger harassed for adapting recipes. Lest you think that people only notice when televisions hosts adapt recipes, Australian Food Blogger Amanda McInerney (whose comment you read above) posted an adapted recipe by UK cookbook author Dan Lepard on her blog. She left the ingredients list the same, but wrote her own headnote and method. Lepard’s business manager, David Whitehouse, came after her in the comments of her blog post and requested she take her adaptation down. She refused. Read the blog’s comments to see what ensued. Two intellectual property lawyers came to her defense! Whitehouse’s argument is that her work was derivative, and therefore subject to copyright law.

I dug around and found three other brownie and sweet potato recipes:

  • On The Kitchn, the writer linked to the original Leopard recipe and listed only the ingredients, converting them for an American audience. I like that, even though readers have to print his recipe and The Kitchn’s.
  • The blogger of PaleOMG changed the ingredients to include honey, coconut oil and coconut flour and didn’t mention his recipe — if indeed she got it from him.
  • Most fascinating was a brownie and sweet potato recipe from Body-Soul from April 2009, more than two years before Dan Lepard published his recipe in the UK Guardian. So whose recipe was it in the first place?

What is the message in these events? Adapt recipes at your own risk? Or should we all just get over it, because everyone does it, and recipes can’t be copyrighted anyway?

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  168 Responses to “Trouble for Two Recipe Adapters”

  1. If you are a television host I suspect that there is an expectation that you will come up with some recipes that, while not groundbreaking, will present a unique spin on tried-and-true desserts. Why present ones that are so played out, like lemon bars? That is simply lazy.

    Most recipes out there have already been done in one form or another, for sure. Honestly, there are only so many ways you can make an apple pie, chocolate custard, or lemon bar. The challenge for recipe writers is how to use ingredients to make what exists better, different, and exciting. When I create recipes I consider how common the idea is, what ways I can make the recipe more original, and if all I can do is a few little tweaks I move on to something else.

    • I agree that there is some kind of expectation if you have a TV show. I assume they have something special to offer, and that’s why these people got a show. To her credit, she has worked as a pastry chef for restaurants.

      Better, different and exciting is a dynamite combination. It’s probably hard to pull off, I bet. You can see a list of her recipes here.

      • When I was going through the casting process for Food Network’s “talent search” for the Next Food Network Star, I had to come up with over 30 original recipes within an insanely short window of time (~24 hours, if I remember correctly) to prove I could create original content accurately and quickly. So, I agree with you. They’re looking for personality, a unique point of view and the ability to develop (your own) recipes.

        • I guess they thought you already had those recipes on hand, Elizabeth. No other way you could have done it. I’m no expert on what makes a TV show successful, but I would go with your list.

  2. This was a great read. I have a few things to offer. Firstly, the show was cancelled because the tv executives were not making the money they thought they would off of her. If at any point in time you have a question as to why things happen in this world, the answer is always money. ALWAYS! Secondly, this whole copyright thing is getting a little old. No one owns anything. NOTHING. You come into the world with nothing and you leave with nothing. So anything that you create while you are here on this earth stays on this earth, you do not own it. That is a silly and absurd way of thinking. Everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING has been done. There is not one single thing that you as an individual can think of that has not been thought of before. There is no way to claim a recipe is “yours.” To copyright words or ingredients is a complete waste of time and money. But how do you convince an entire society that this is true when they are made to believe that this “is” the way things are to be done? If there wasn’t such uncertainty in the world right now none of this would be occurring. There is such a lust for money from the masses right now that everyone is out to screw over everyone else.
    Perhaps, we all should be focusing on bigger more pertinent issues such as the deterioration of the earth in which we live rather than wasting time on who owns what recipes. This is exactly what happens when you live in a debt-based society.
    What a mess.

    • KiwiT, I take it you do not develop recipes for a living? Because if you do, I doubt that you would have this mindset.

      You are probably right that the show was cancelled because of ratings. Money does seem to be the reason behind most decisions. But this issue of adapting recipes is not only about money. It is about ownership, sharing, and creativity.

    • As someone who has spent 26 years in media sales I whole-heatedly agree with KiwiT. I think we all can acknowledge that media outlets do not care about integrity or honesty, they care about money. Just look at Martha Stewart, who if you recall from found guilty of lying and returned from her jail stint to television.
      As a food blogger, I strive to create original recipes, yet none of us live in a vacuum. I get inspired by what I taste in restaurants, what I see on shows like “Chopped” or “Iron Chef”, etc. When I come up with what I think is an original idea I usually put all of the key ingredients into Google and see what comes up. My “intellectual property” is rarely as unique as I originally thought!
      When I do look at recipes first I will reference them in my post. I think this is an ethical practice and I do so as much in the interest of karma as anything else.
      And, again, KiwiT summed it up so eloquently when she suggested we focus on more pertinent issues and in my opinion this includes teaching our children about integrity, non voilent conflict resolution and good communications skills, which include listening and employing empathy.
      Just a few thoughts!

      • Nice of you to realize that about your intellectual property. Sometimes we all need to take a deep breath. I don’t write about teaching children integrity, non-violent conflict resolution, but I could write more about good communication skills. Good idea.

  3. Regarding Anne Thornton, I watched her show exactly one time. During that episode, I saw her make an ice cream cake almost exactly like one I’d seen in Bon Appetit a few months before that day. You hit the nail on the head with “If you have nothing new to offer about a lemon bar, move on.” If you’re repeating someone else’s recipe because of something special about it, note the original source and give credit where it’s due. If you really believe you are creating a new and unique recipe, and it’s for lemon bars, you probably aren’t. So, again, why not mention your inspiration?

  4. We had an issue yesterday with a similar and nicely illustrative thing on The Kitchn. One of the writers developed a terrific recipe for cauliflower soup. She was actually working on a roasted potato soup, inspired by three very different sources, including a family recipe, and it wasn’t turning out to her liking. So she threw in cauliflower and a couple other extra ingredients — it was great. Then she wanted to dress it up a bit, and she remembered that Hugh Acheson does a dill whipped cream in one of his books. So she threw one together (not referencing his recipe at all) and posted this lovely recipe.

    Well, not an hour later, a Twitter follower was accusing her of ripping off Acheson entirely, because he too does a roasted cauliflower soup with his dill whipped cream. I compared the two recipes, and saw that even though the writer’s path had arrived at a very similar recipe, it was coincidental — aside from the dill inspiration. This writer is very professional and shares copious notes on her process — it was all very well documented.

    We added a clearer credit and nod to Acheson’s book (including an Amazon direct link to purchase) to really cover our bases. But it was a good reminder to me how grey this whole area is. It is easy to inadvertently reproduce some recipes independently. And some, like lemon bars and curd, which I was just working on myself, have a narrow range of variability.

    On response, I think it depends on your position in this debate. As RECIPE DEVELOPERS, I personally think we shouldn’t get too hung up — just keep striving for ever better work and better recipes, and shrug it off when people do silly things with them. I think a lot of negative energy gets generated here that isn’t helpful or productive to us in the long run.

    BUT, on the other hand, as BLOGGERS I think we should be a lot less quick to reprint recipes. Why not do what we do at The Kitchn (not to toot our horn or anything – I just really like this format): Review recipes, instead of reprinting — take your own photos, add commentary and review the recipe. Add your own perspective and value to the recipe. But then, instead of reprinting, link off to the source where you found it! What’s so hard about that? Why do you HAVE to have the recipe reprinted on your site, unless you passed it so thoroughly through the jaws of your intelligence and your kitchen process that is genuinely a new iteration?

    Sorry — long comment, but this whole issue is on my mind at the moment! :)

    • Thanks for this thoughtful comment and story, Faith. How fascinating about the recipe developer who inadvertently created a similar recipe to Hugh Acheson’s, and how quickly the Twittersphere called her on it. Good recovery!

      I like your delineation about recipe developers and bloggers, although some do both. While it’s a serious issue, I wouldn’t want recipe developers to get frozen by the idea that someone else might have made a recipe like the one they just created, and therefore they should stop. Maybe the message is to do more research, once you think you’ve come up with something original.

      I also like how The Kitchn handles pre-existing recipes. I am not sure if food bloggers would be willing to do that. A lot of bloggers I’ve talked with don’t feel qualified to create their own recipes. They want to share a recipe and not have people click away. That’s what’s led many food bloggers to adapt recipes in the first place. They know they shouldn’t put a recipe on their site verbatim, so they adjust.

    • I really appreciated your comment about food bloggers reviewing recipes instead of just reprinting them. On my blog we review cupcakes from all over, but about once a week we bake and review a recipe we found online, in a book, etc. We always site were we got the recipe and mention any adaptations we decided to make. Even if we take a cake recipe from one place and a frosting or filling from another, we always site that source and link too it. It’s not hard to do. If our followers want to make lemon, chocolate, or peanut butter cupcakes, they are fully capable of using Google or even buying the mix from the supermarket, but for us, the importance is that our followers will know is this recipe worth trying?

      • That makes sense. I guess the question that comes from the post is about how major the changes are to the recipe. Sounds like you are switching up the frosting on the cake, which is a good thing.

    • I am also a writer for The Kitchn and I just wanted to echo my support for the way we handle recipe “reviews.” We add our own thoughts and photos to the recipe, but ultimately giving the original author the page views by not reprinting the recipe in its entirety. I think it is such an easy way to ensure the person (or entity) that put the time and effort into developing the recipe gets some sort of compensation for their hard work. A credit is great, but in reality, how many readers actually click through if there is no pressing need to?

      • They might click through if they want to know more about the original author – but I suppose that would be up to the blogger to create that curiosity. But again, I think it’s a great way to deal with a recipe.

    • I understand why you review rather than post recipes, but I’ve always thought of the kitchn as an aggregating food blog – while there are a lot of original ideas, recipes, stories, tips and hints, you guys are also trend spotters, a kind of litmus test for what’s current in food right now. You also have a lot of contributors. Thus the kitchn is very different in nature from a personal cooking or recipe blog.

      If you take the argument that a lot of people start blogs to share their recipes and cooking successes and failures (that is one of the most popular types of food blogs to start), then it makes sense to post entire recipes, with attributions and the method rewritten.

      It’s not that it’s ‘hard’ to link without posting a recipe, it just doesn’t suit all formats. You might make a recipe and something didn’t work, or you have a suggestion to improve it. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with NOT posting the recipe, but it’s a hell of a lot more convenient for your readers if you just post it and give credit. Only the list of ingredients will be the same as the original recipe.

      • I know you’re addressing Faith and not me, but I have to add my 2 cents. I still say that if you don’t have anything significant to add to the recipe, there is no reason to post it. Just having success with it is not enough.

        • Maybe your standards are just higher than mine. For me, food blogging can be a lot more laid back than that, an extension of emailing you fave recipe to a friend or lending them a cookbook with your notes in the margins.

          I appreciate that you want food blogging to ‘add something significant’ to the dialogue on food, but not all food blogs set out to do that. Maybe those that do make better blogs, I don’t know.

          Maybe you should still have a slant on it or a funny story about it or something, that’s preferable to just posting a recipe, sure. But for some of us we are literally sharing a recipe we made, that we would make anyway, we are recommending (or not) a recipe the way you would recommend a restaurant.

          You have got me thinking though, and that is always a good thing. In recent months I have moved away from recipes as a topic as I find I have less and less to say about what I’m cooking. I’m sure that will change though.

          • Emailing a recipe to a friend is not the same as publishing it, nor is lending a cookbook the same thing as publishing a recipe. Nor is it the same as recommending a restaurant, as no plagiarism of the written word is involved. So no, I don’t agree that those things are the same.

            Definitely, it’s more meaningful to me to read a post that has more to it than “I made this and I liked it.”

            Well, that being said, I’m glad to see you’re moving away from recipes as a topic. Certainly, there’s lots more to blog about when it comes to food.

  5. If you are directly inspired by someone else’s recipe they are entitled to some sort of credit. If you are inspired by pieces of a dozen different recipes, who deserves credit?

    Even when it comes to directions, unique wordage can be a problem. “In a medium mixing bowl, ” “In a two quart mixing bowl,” “Mix in a medium bowl,” “Using a bowl about the size of a small cannonball melon but smaller and cut in half….”

    Like my friend the Beth, Kitchen Mage, I too have come up with ideas all on my own only to discover near duplicates later. I have a theory about memes that accounts for this, but the short form is someone else is having the same original idea you are more or less now.

    If you publish it, it will be copied. Period. In fact, that’s what you hope – you just also hope your name is attached so you might get some fame or money from the sharing. Of course, if they copy a large volume of work you should raise holy hell.

    • You can credit more than one person in a headnote, but you don’t want to go overboard. It won’t read well if you’re crediting a list of people, of course. Perhaps it is an issue of who had the largest influence.

      Re unique wordage, I’ve never seen the one about “a bowl the size of a small cannonball melon.” Good one. But in the end, if food bloggers copy it in their method verbatim, you can ask them to rewrite it, but are you going to sue them? Probably not.

      The issue of people copying large volumes of work is more problematic, and probably easier to go after.

      • Diane,

        I’d like to think I invented the cannonball melon reference at the moment I wrote the note. But who knows?

        I could have been clearer on the copying business. Most of us publish recipes to share our ideas and knowledge with others. Some hope to make a few bucks – even a living – doing so. But I’ve asserted since I started writing professionally over 20 years ago that if you share something in print it will be copied. If it’s a really good idea it will be copied a lot. I give you band-aids and kleenix.

  6. I’m sticking with U.S. law, which is pretty damn clear: lists of ingredients are not protected. A browse through the yeast baking literature will reveal hundreds of nearly identical formulae and processes in hundreds of books: there’s nothing new under the sun in an area that’s been worked for 5,000+ years. The value isn’t in the list of ingredients–it’s in the author’s ability to explain the process. Why are we so hung up on perceived originality these days? Food is just too big—we all own it, in a way. I sort of feel sorry for Dan Lepard–his business manager’s heavy handed tactics haven’t exactly polished his online reputation here in the U.S.

    • Celeste,

      “The value isn’t in the list of ingredients’96it’s in the author’s ability to explain the process.”

      As an editor (in the computer business) I sometimes had writers object to article ideas I wanted covered: “It’s been done!,” “Everyone knows that.” My answer was “yes” and “no.” The most popular article I ever wrote was about an ancient programming technique that everyone did know. But the readers had forgotten their first days in school when they learned the algorithm. I offered a new context and different view.

      We each “know” things in different ways, contexts, purposes. Sometimes even a basic beef stew can benefit from being presented in a new way.

      • Kevin – Completely agree with you. Recreating familiar recipes in a new way can be very successful and appealing to a wide audience. It can also be the most challenging to find that flavor or technique that makes people want to try the recipe. So kudos to people who do that well. And a credit to the inspiration of the recipe can never hurt.

    • Yes, that is the essence of it, that ingredients are not protected. I am not hung up with who originated the recipe. But I am concerned about people who take the writing of others (the title, headnote and method you mention) and just copy them with minor changes. I don’t think that’s right.

  7. I agonize over this issue and, after a great deal of thought, believe there is no simple answer to the problem of recipe adaptation. If I give credit to the “original” author of a recipe and clearly list how I have adapted/substituted/added, etc. that feels to me the best job I can responsibly do. And, yes, for heaven’s sake, enough with the lemon bars – although I recently posted an adaptation of a brownie recipe. Sigh.

    • Agreed that there is no simple answer. Some authors are incensed if you adapt and credit them, some are thrilled. So you are doing the best you can, Liz. Maybe the solution is to put a ban on lemon bar and brownie recipes for a while.

  8. The argument about recipe attribution, adapting recipes, and copyright is something I choose not to get involved in usually, as it’s a hot topic often quickly becomes vicious attacks instead of being constructive and objective but it is still something that concerns me due to my position as a food blogger since I feature recipes on my site that are sometimes adapted from other sources. I always make the point to credit the original source and provide a link if possible (there’s the odd one or two where I haven’t been able to find a web link) or I just post a link to the recipe if I made it exactly to the tee, but a story like that published in the Daily Mail threw me in for a loop. I thought that as long as you credit the original source you made it from (compared to making something inspired, then finding similar takes already in existence) it was ethical? I find it generally confusing because there doesn’t seem to be any clear, universal answer. Sometimes it seems to be based more on political correctness than creative merit.

    The other thing about recipe attribution in the online world is that often, the food blogger who makes their version of the recipe (even if only with the slightest changes) gets the praise and the recipe is claimed as theirs, whether by the blogger herself or by the people who leave comments. Perhaps that is the problem that publishers and published cooks/chefs are having. (I recall you wrote a similar post about this before.) I was involved in this earlier today, with a recipe for a grapefruit olive oil cake being called mine, however I’d simply adapted it and I acknowledged this and cited the sources in my original post. I made the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and the original recipe was by Melissa Clark. From my understanding, technically it is not my recipe even though I made changes to it to make it gluten-free as well as dairy-free and used honey instead of sugar or that I used grapefruit instead of blood oranges because it is fundamentally the same recipe.

    • What I love about this blog is that I can throw out questions and people have thoughtful answers. I agree that this subject can become vindictive and moralizing, but what is the point? We really are trying to figure this out. I believe that sincerely.

      Here’s what I have figured out as unethical, in order of egregiousness:
      1. Copying a recipe and trying to pass it off as yours.
      2. Copying a recipe and changing a few random things that don’t really impact it, ex. 1/2 tsp. sugar to 1 tsp. sugar
      3. Doing No. 2 above and linking to the original recipe. It redeems you a little bit, but not much.
      On the other hand, I have sympathy for hobby bloggers who do not think of themselves as chefs and just want to pass on recipes they love. And I have sympathy for the recipe developers who have no idea they’ve just created a recipe that has been published, as Faith’s story illustrates. So it’s complicated.

      Yes, I have posted on the topic of how a recipe becomes the blogger’s, once they post it. It is one of my most commented-upon. I agree that it is not really your recipe, but it might be thought of that way by your readers.

  9. I agree with your idea that if you have nothing new to add to the recipe, move on. But if you have ideas on how to improve or change up a recipe, or just insight on creating the recipe itself, by all means add your two cents.

    At the same time, who’s to say that Martha or Ina or their staff wasn’t inspired by lesser known chefs or bloggers? We’re quick to say a certain recipe “belongs” to so-and-so if it gets a lot of exposure, but the truth is that in the modern age, there are no recipes that are absolute originals. I’m a recipe developer and strive to make every dish different from my inspirations, but I know there will always be overlaps. My recipe for pork dumplings that I learned from my mother will be very close in ingredients and methods, and sometimes exactly the same, as the recipes belonging thousands of other people. The same goes for lemon bars and chocolate frosting. The best you can hope for is to insert your ideas and unique takes on the recipes you publish or demo on TV.

    • I am not so concerned about who had the first recipe. It’s more about taking someone’s writing and representing it as your own, or changing a few minor things. That is what got Thornton in trouble, and I think it’s a legitimate issue.

      Re your recipe for pork dumplings, yours could be different if you will talk about your mother, the experience of learning from her, and if you will write your own method rather than copying it from someone else. That is what matters to me.

  10. Here is a funny thing about original recipes, in some cases you can’t do anything but original! An example is preserved foods. If you change a recipe even a little…a jam, jelly, pickle or preserve could potentially kill someone. If you post a recipe for grape jelly…who gets the credit? The ratio of sugar, juice and pectin are going to be the same!

    I believe there were other reasons this food network star or blogger’s were targeted. The “lemon bar making cook in her home kitchen” market is flooded. Don’t discount professional jealousy either,. I’ve seen even nice little bloggers form cliques they can bully and bury others. If someone has it out for you it’s tough!

    • If you don’t have anything new to say about grape jelly, why bother to post a recipe in the first place? I’m not sure you are adding anything to the discussion, unless there is a great story to go with it, or you have a new technique.

      Professional jealousy is definitely an issue in our business, I agree.

      • You’re right, I didn’t include a complete thought.The story behind the grape jelly~ I was interested in a project of writing recipes and technique for preserved foods so the beginner could find the “how to” information on canning is more user friendly.
        Was told that it couldn’t include a basic recipe, such as grape jelly because I didn’t create it originally. It is difficult to write an original recipe when there is only a few ingredients and one safe way to make it. I apologize, this subject of the original recipe paradox has been covered before,.
        Thank you for the forum to read yours and everyone’s great comments!

        • No problem, Renee, it’s great to read this additional story about the grape jelly. What a conundrum. I suppose whoever told you that figured there were enough grape jelly recipes out there already. But canning books are all the rage, and I bet I could find grape jelly recipes in them.

  11. Like many others I am of two (or three or four) minds on this issue. Most of the recipes on my blog are my own. But I do post/adapt the recipes of others from time to time, with their permission or as a form of appreciation. I really like shining a spotlight on favorite cookbooks that I personally love to cook from. Often, but not always, these are books that don’t get as much attention as (I feel) they deserve–either the book is old or out of print or never broke through to gain a lot of recognition. So, in those instances I usually write about the book itself and share one of my favorite recipes from it. I did this with Marian Morash’s book The Victory Garden and Nancy Baggett’s All American Cookie book. In the case of Nancy’s book, it was an award-winning book, so not obscure at all. I know Nancy, so I asked and got her permission to write about it and share a recipe. In the case of Marian Morash’s book, it’s a book that is beloved by me and others but that you don’t hear much about anymore. I was basically paying homage to it. Most recently, I posted a recipe for classic clam chowder that I made out of Cook’s Illustrated’s Soups & Stews book. I specified what I did differently in the recipe and in the method, mentioned the book several times, and linked to the book on Amazon. I try hard to be respectful and transparent when I’m posting others’ recipes.

    And now a question: I almost always say yes to bloggers who ask to post about my books and share a recipe. Obviously it’s in my interest, and it also makes me happy when people cook from my books! One blogger did write about a book of mine and included a recipe that calls for a crust. The blogger adapted the recipe but essentially used my language in the method for making/shaping the crust, which was, of course, fine. This was awhile ago. Recently I saw that this blogger posted a different recipe that also called for a crust and again used my language for the method. I’m talking specific visual cue language that I know by heart because it’s in several of my books. I thought about saying something to the blogger but decided against it. I like this person and I’m betting it was unintentional. I come from the (old) world of print (I’ve said this before) so much of this territory is new to me. Wondering what your or others’ responses might be. Thanks!

    • Hi Domenica. What you are talking about in the first paragraph, mostly, is publishing someone else’s recipe verbatim, with permission. No problem with that. In he last example, I like that you said what you did differently. Assuming you changed the recipe a lot, it sounds good.

      Re the blogger and the pie crust (sounds like it could be murder mystery!), my sense is that you should let it go too. It’s a small community.

      • Agree. I believe most of us in this business are working in good faith.

        • Apparently, America’s Test Kitchen (the people who write Cook’s Illustrated) don’t feel the same way. http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=20324 I get the impression that they were more unhappy that their name was used publicly than that the potato salad recipe was adapted from their work.

          I’ve always wondered how they could justify their stance, considering their whole system is based on combining the best of several different recipes, which would be an adaptation.

          It’s not as though the Food Network website isn’t rife with repeats of the same recipe: everybody cooks “basics” basically the same: it’s why they’re called “basics.” I don’t know a single dessert cookbook that doesn’t have a recipe for lemon bars in it, and she’s right: they’re all essentially the same recipe.

          On my blog, I adapt recipes to a specific purpose: I re-make them with foods that can be found in a food desert (canned, dried pantry staples.) I usually link back to the recipe that I source most of my information from, but typically my research involves anywhere between three and six recipes, usually with minor differences: how would I credit that?

          • I don’t think you have to worry about that, especially if you write your own recipe from scratch. The issue here is with someone who takes 1 recipe and makes a few very minor changes to it. It’s not about the ingredients, but about how it’s written.

  12. I find it most interesting that you found a sweet potato brownie recipe published two years before Dan’s. Dan has published it in a book and made money from it. Amanda, adapted Dan’s recipe with an entirely different methodology to create the dish in a completely different piece of machinery (i.e. Thermomix), accredited Dan with the original recipe on her post and is not making a dime! Then Dan’s business partner has the gall to call Amanda on it (as well as a number of other people around the world) with regards to infringement of copyright. It would not only appear that Dan Lepard’s business partner has no legal basis to his claims but is also doing his business partner a great disservice from a PR perspective. It will be interesting to see how this plays itself out.

    Some of the individuals commenting here also like to draw a big thick line to separate bloggers and so called food professionals. I would like to point out that some of us food bloggers also work in the industry, are professionally qualified and stand much closer to the front line of the food business than many professional food writers.

    • Yes it’s true that I found that recipe, but there is no evidence that Dan adapted it. For all we know, he could have come up with the idea independently. As Faith pointed out below, it happens — probably pretty often.

      Agreed that Dan’s business manager should have taken the conversation offline. But now look at the great discussion it generated, both on Amanda’s blog and here. There is some value to that.

      Re bloggers and food professionals, I agree that the line is blurred. Traditional print writers have blogs, and food bloggers have cookbook contracts and freelance writing gigs.

      • Regarding the possibility of Dan creating the recipe himself, I concede the point and stand corrected.

        Regarding the discussion it created, it is great for us, but not necessarily for some others.

        I’ve also just realised that I’m a big fan of your book btw!!

        Regards.

  13. Fabulous food for thought, Dianne. I am glad you took that story and ran with it and posted it to your FB and got a variety of opinions, and I just read all the preceding comments…it’s great to hear what folks think, from all sides of the coin and walks of life, so to speak.

    I always feel both happy and sad when someone makes a recipe I’ve posted on my blog and then reprints it entirely on their blog, and gets the credit for it. It actually just happened that a recipe of mine (that someone else made and reprinted on her site) made the Food Buzz Top 9. It was a pretty unique recipe and when I clicked over to the gal’s site, and although she did link to me, it was my recipe, but she got the views and the credit and I posted it nearly 2 years ago. So I’m happy she made it but of course wish it was my blog in the Top 9 for that :)

    The comment that nothing is original anymore…well, in some cases, true. Like with canning or jam-making or with a lemon bar or a choc chip cookie… But when I developed the recipe I speak of, it was because I had a slew of overripe bananas, avocados, agave, etc on hand and I had not seen what I did anywhere before and Pinterest didn’t exist so there was less “inspiration” So sometimes there really are “new” things out there that are being made.

    Could go on and on…

    In a nutshell though, if ratings were fabulous and the TV chef was making tons of money for the network, I bet a blind(er) eye would have been turned to the adaptation issue…

    • Hi Averie, thanks for noticing it was the first time I asked for feedback on social media prior to a post, and included it here.

      How ironic that someone took your recipe and got credit for it on her blog. I suppose you would feel a little better if she adapted it, but probably it would be even better if she was simply inspired by your recipe but came up with something new.

      While I think little is new with a traditional lemon bar recipe, there’s still room for innovation if you make it vegan, for instance, or if you make it with passion fruit instead of lemon juice. It just depends on how you spin it. There still aren’t many baking recipes that call for avocados and agave!

  14. As ever, great conversation starter, Dianne.

    One point of clarification — it’s not that “recipes cannot be copyrighted” but that “under current US copyright law, recipes cannot be copyrighted”.

    But I also am gaining new sympathy for cookbook/hardprint authors who have been forced to “just get on with life” when food bloggers started posting their work about ten years ago. Now that the same thing is happening to bloggers in iPad apps the likes of Zite, entire posts published without permission in Zite’s magazine format, no links to the content publisher’s site, no traffic to the content publisher’s site. How do they meet US copyright law? By stating in their T&C that they’ll take down the content — once YOU find it, once YOU notify them, etc. etc. etc.

    PS Who remembers the kerfuffle when Cook’s Illustrated’s intern bullied some blogger to take down a CI recipe? That was not so many years ago and is mostly forgotten. This too shall pass.

    • Yes, that is more correct, Alanna.

      These other sites have all kinds of justifications for what they do, and many people don’t mind. So if you mind, you have to chase them.

      Re the CI recipe, yes someone else brought that up and provided a link.

  15. I have been lamenting the practice of people ‘owning’ recipes for a long time and most recently did my own post about the absurdity of it. As an example I had made a salad without using a recipe and when I Googled the ingredients, 11,400 responses were returned. I’ve had a very well known blogger tell me to remove her recipe from my website that I’ve probably been making since she was 5 years old. I just noticed another well known blogger who insists on the practice of simply linking to his blog instead of including the recipe on our own…and then recently doing just want he laments against!

    In addition to the absurdity of it, there seems to be a clear double standard at work too on who/what and where this system of ownership and these rules apply.

    I left a comment on Amanda’s site and I remain firm in this resolve. I don’t blog to promote authors or other bloggers. I blog about MY experience and I want to keep a record of that experience for myself on my own blog. I will always give due credit to anyone who actually inspired me but I won’t be held hostage by the absurdity of this issue in the blogging world. I’m most thankful that friends who have shared recipes with me don’t feel the need to take such ownership when they come to my home and I’ve made their dish…I can not imagine them standing up and announcing to the room that is was in fact ‘THEIR’ recipe.

    And I have to wonder about this whole snafu with Martha and Ina and their Lemon Bars and German Chocolate Cake. Are we to believe that they somehow created those recipes then? Because my copy of ‘The Artist in the Kitchen’ circa mid 1970′s from the Friends of the St. Louis Art Museum has a recipe for Lemon Bars that I know predates my or anyone else knowledge of Martha Stewart and if crediting anyone with inspiration for German’s Chocolate cake then it has to be given to a housewife back in the 50′s who originated that recipe using German’s Sweet Chocolate (it’s true; it’s not German at all!).

    For someone for who the whole culture of food is rooted in sharing it with friends and family and now online I think this whole notion of ownership is bastardizing the culture of food. Food is rooted in our society not just as a means of nourishment but cements memories and relationships in the course of sharing those meals with others. This constant bickering about ownership and stealing seem to be the providence of food bloggers and it’s become a very tiring argument. Behind it surely lies an arrogance and/or a quest for dollars that has become unseemly for all.

    • I agree with Barbara, here. But I also think there are very clear legal lines not to be crossed. Photographs? Copyright-protected. Actual expression (i.e. verbatim recipes)? Copyright-protected. Collections (as in every recipe in a cookbook)? Copyright-protected. Ideas are not. Lists of ingredients are not. METHODS are not (If you really think you have the NEXT GREATEST METHOD, go ahead and try to patent it. Good luck with that.) When I have gotten a recipe from somewhere I always try to credit it. But I’m not going to bend over backwards to ensure that the same recipe hasn’t been published somewhere else if I didn’t see it there first. And if my aunt gave me her recipe for spaghetti sauce I’m going to say “Hey, this is my aunt’s recipe.” But I don’t do research to make sure she didn’t get it off the back of the can of San Marzano tomatoes. If I’m being paid to develop a recipe, I do my darndest to make it as original as possible, but all I can vouch for is that I independently developed the recipe, not that it is unique in the world of food.

      But as a blogger, I see myself as not only a recipe creator but a recipe curator. Look! Here I am, in my home kitchen, without a prep staff. I can make this! I liked it! Here’s how I garnished it! Here’s how my family reacted! I’m not making claims of originality when there is none, so I’m not lying. I don’t think it’s unethical, and it’s certainly not illegal.

      • I don’t have any objection to what you’ve said here, Kate, other than that “verbatim recipes” are not copyright protected.

        • They are! If I go to the Pioneer Woman’s website and cut and paste her entire recipe and repost it, I’m violating her copyright. This gets a little iffy though, because you only have a copyright in it to the extent it’s original expression. If Ree writes “Baby Yellow Potatoes, cut into inky dinky pieces the size of my basset hound’s pinky toe” and I copy that, I’m probably violating her copyright. There are only so many ways to say “1 stick of butter” or “Beat egg whites until stiff’ though.

    • Here we disagree, Barbara. I don’t think it’s bickering at all. We’re are all trying to understand how adapting works, which was going on in magazines and newspapers long before food bloggers came along. Today it’s not just bloggers who are adapting, but Food Network stars and big websites, in addition to what has always gone on with cookbook authors and freelance writers.

      I don’t see how the blogging world is holding you hostage. If someone wants to claim your recipe as theirs, he or she should be able to show you how you copied theirs, almost word for word. That is what happened with Anne Thornton. Simply having the same ingredients list doesn’t count.

      Sharing food is rooted in society. Publishing them is not the same thing. You can give your auntie a dozen of Martha Stewart’s cupcake s and a photocopy of a recipe with no consequences. But if you publish it on your blog, that’s different.

      As for the quest for dollars, some people at the top make a lot of money from recipe writing, but they are a very small percentage. Suggesting that this discussion of ownership is motivated by a quest for dollars doesn’t ring true to me. Very few people make a decent living as recipe writers.

  16. Dear Dianne,

    I must add something to this thread. Not everything has been created already. To say that everything has been done, is to say that we (humankind) have no abilities to create any further or that all has been discovered and written about. I can’t agree with that. Food, in particular, is always in motion and new dishes are being created every day. In addition, there are still many undiscovered cuisines in the world. A lot of ethnic culinary movements have never been written about. So I keep the faith.
    Regarding property or ownership of a recipe. Classics are classics. I’m sure plenty of new cooks want to learn how to make a simple apple pie. Television personalities have the ability to reach millions of novice cooks and to teach them how to do so successfully. Perhaps, they should also give credit to the authors of the recipes they’re adapting from. Giving credit is not that difficult to do. It’s too bad that shows don’t do that. Imagine how much good they could do to the cookbook industry if they would point to the actual source of a recipe?This is a very interesting post, Dianne, and I think we can talk about it for a long, long time and not get to a definitive answer.
    Thank you for always getting us to converse and to exchange ideas. You provide us with so much to talk about!

    • It sounds pretty depressing when you put it that way, Sandra. I also think not everything has been done. But I also think we really don’t need another lemon bar recipe, unless someone’s trying to do something new.

      As far as I know, the hosts of these cooking shows are expected to come with their own recipes, unless they have a guest on the show demonstrating a dish. It sounds like a good idea, but the show is all about the personality in front of the camera.

      • Aw… I”m sorry, Dianne. I didn’t mean to sound depressing. What I mean is that there is always room for television personalities to showcase classic recipes too but not only classics. That’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is that she allegedly wouldn’t give credit where credit was due and that she allegedly lifted the recipes without crediting their originators. I believe this happens a lot. That’s depressing, indeed.

        As a recipe developer myself, I am very protective of my work. I’ve also seen my recipes (and photographs) lifted word by word, and used by others (bloggers, cooking instructors, for example) without any kind of credit and that makes me upset. And my point that not everything has been done, goes to the fact that when one creates a new cuisine (as is my case) and then those new recipes start to appear in other places, it’s easy to see that they’ve been lifted.

        I definitely agree with you that cooking hosts should come up with their own material. Then again, this begins another discussion: are television cooking hosts always hired because they really know how to cook? Or are they signed for other reasons (looks, personality, etc.)?

        Like I said before. I want to keep the faith. Hopefully, people will become better about respecting each other’s work.

        • No problem, Sandra.

          In your case, you were smart enough to create your own dishes which I doubt were documented before, so as you say, it is easy to tell when someone lifts them. It is okay to talk to them about it. Many big bloggers do so.

          Re television hosts, they could be the best cooks, restaurateurs, and recipe writers in the world, but if they’re no good on camera, it won’t work.

  17. “the show is all about the personality in front of the camera.”

    And, to some degree, about the integrity of the person when the camera isn’t turned on them. But I digress. I believe that the Food Network cancelled the show due to ratings, and not due to the use of adapted recipes.

    As for Mr. Whitehouse harassing Amanda for not taking down the list of ingredients and methods, I do believe he is off-base where it comes to what is actually infringing. However, he does raise an interesting question: whether the author is “losing control over the use and distribution of his copyright work.”

    Once a recipe is published either in print or online, is the author granting license to have it republished anywhere? Can a person or group of people make all the recipes out of a single cookbook, blog about it, and give everyone else access to the entire book’s recipes online?

    • As others have said here, once you publish, you lose control of your work, even though you are not granting the ability to have it republished anywhere. Sure, people can blog about the recipes, but they can’t grant access to the entire book. I wrote about Elise Bauer’s experience with someone pirating her recipes into a book. She got Amazon to take the book off their site. Awesome.

    • Nate – i just wanted to point out that the recipe of Dan’s which Whitehouse was taking issue with was already online on The Guardian’s website, thus giving the world access to it. And I altered the method in every way, to suit a Thermomix.

  18. I can’t add much more to this excellent debate. I did participate on a closed forum for UK food bloggers and there was much confusion and alarm expressed due to Mr Whitehouse’s actions. Food bloggers are running scared. Dan Lepard has a lot of good will in the UK but the way this was handled would have damaged a lesser reputation.
    Thanks as always for setting out the facts and starting the conversation in such an informed and intelligent manner Dianne.

    • Thanks Sally. Food blogger, especially hobbyists, probably have no idea about all this stuff that we’re discussing here. It’s a constant education.

  19. Extremely interesting post, Dianne (as always, I must say, even though it means repeating myself –but no Copyright issue about that ;) )

    There is another issue that might need to be written about : what about all those cookbook authors or bloggers who do not invent much and publish books/posts whose only “originality” is to mention that their recipes are “gluten free” or other “free from” one or another ingredient ?
    There are a huge amount of recipes that are published that way. For example, recipes for omelettes in a GF book, when an omelette has never contained any gluten in it, or a recipe for buckwheat galettes, something we French have been eating for centuries and that contains neither gluten, nor eggs or dairy products.
    Isn’t that a certain form of cheating too, when there is no added value to something the reader could have easily found out by herself?

    • Il n’y a pas de lait ou d’oeufs dans les galettes de sarrasin? Je suis d’accord sur le fond de ce que tu dis, Flo, mais c’est quoi cette histoire de galettes de sarrasin sans oeufs ou lait? ;)

      To answer your point about people calling recipes GF that don’t technically have gluten in them to begin with, I think that has more to do with stating the obvious in order to get traffic in that direction from people searching for “GF recipes” online, and also laziness, as in “Hey everybody, making recipes that have gluten in them gluten-free is hard work so let me just stick a recipe in there that doesn’t have any gluten in it to begin with.”

      • Hilda,
        Thanks for reading my comment and answering me :)
        Traditionnellement, les cr’eapes bretonnes sont faites de sarrasin, eau et gros sel de mer uniquement, c”e9tait un plat de pauvres. Elles ont ensuite ‘e9t’e9 enrichies, mais c’est superflu, et je n’aime rien tant que les galettes d’antan (surtout dans ma famille d’intol’e9rants au gluten et au lait, de toute fa’e7on!)

        I agree with what you wrote : a way to get traffic without effort. That’s sad, because it does take time out of so many other beautiful things life offers to go read a recipe elsewhere, and I feel cheated on every time there is nothing to learn from what I read… (a good reason to love Dianne’s blog, by the way, there is always content, words for thought).

        Thanks again Hilda :)

        • This is so cool, you two talking to each other in French. Je regrette that I cannot transcribe my comments as well.

          I think it’s pointless to do a cookbook or blog for gluten-free with an omelette recipe in it. I’m with you, Hilda. And Flora, thanks for the kind words. Commenters are what give the blog value.

          • I’m going to respectfully disagree on gluten-free cookbooks not including recipes that are naturally gluten free. As a gluten-free blogger, recipe creator, and gluten-free support group leader, my gluten free easily (gfe) approach is to focus on naturally gluten-free recipes. Often adopting that approach can be the difference between failure and success in living gluten free. With the focus on naturally gluten-free dishes, the gluten-free newbie and family members don’t experience the differences in flavors and textures, plus naturally gluten-free cooking is much more “accessible,” economical, and usually healthier. When folks go gluten free, they are often so overwhelmed that they forget about foods and dishes they’ve been eating their whole lives that are naturally gluten free. It’s a good thing to remind them about such recipes and get them thinking alone those lines. Why does a gluten-free recipe have to have special “gluten-free” ingredients? Does a low-fat, low-calorie cookbook have to have “fake”/alternative ingredients like artificial sweeteners and skim milk? Or can it include recipes like a banana-sweetened pudding or a fruit sorbet? I know this discussion is not the whole focus of this post, but it strikes a nerve. Pete and Kelli Bronski’s outstanding gluten-free cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, even got marked down for having naturally gluten-free recipes and not ones that included special gluten-free ingredients. You can read more on that here. I think that if you apply this line of thinking to several different modes and styles of cooking, you’ll see how unfair it can be.

            One more note on the original topic of this post … ironically, at least one blogger commenting here on others taking “their” ideas, etc. has blatantly *lifted* others’ ideas. And in another example of what I think it unacceptable when it comes to adapting others’ recipes, I read an “adapted” cookie recipe the other day. One ingredient had been reduced by 1/2 tsp and another ingredient (the small amount of nuts, which was not a critical one) had been left out. Worse, the credit was “Adapted from here” with a link in the “here” spot. The blogger wouldn’t even name the blogger whose recipe they had “adapted.” The rest of the wording was if this blogger had created this amazing and wonderful recipe. All inexcusable in my opinion. Folks know what’s theirs and what’s not; it’s really that simple.

            Thanks for always broaching the important topics, Dianne!
            Shirley

          • Thanks Shirley. Okay, we’re off topic here, but re the gluten-free issue, you make some good points. I wouldn’t be opposed to a list of naturally gluten-free foods at the beginning of a gluten-free book. I wouldn’t be opposed to serving suggestions of naturally gluten-free foods in the headnote. But I wouldn’t want to see recipes for those dishes.

            Re the blogger who has adapted from others — yeah, that’s pretty ironic all right. And as for the other who made minor changes and didn’t credit the recipe, definitely not kosher, as I keep saying, repeatedly.

          • I believe B’e9atrice Peltre’s Tartine Gourmande contains many naturally GF recipes – and I think that is great. As someone who has to make GF dishes out of necessity, I find incredible value in just knowing I can don’t always have to wonder about “do I have every expensive flour needed already in my pantry or do I have to go hunting for X exotic ingredient to make this GF recipe?”. I am sure I am not the only one who appreciates the value of having many naturally GF recipes in a cookbook. I would be heartbroken if she had left those recipes out.

          • I’ve read Shirley’s and Jenn’s comments on GF and found them super interesting, I was being a little too abrupt, maybe. Even though I will still feel cheated on if I happen to buy a GF/allergen free book that contains ONLY naturally GF + GF flour commercial mix + “substitute any non dairy milk” + “replace the egg by egg substitute” recipe book, as I’ve recently received one (in French, I must say).

            Dianne, when a recipe is included in a book or magazine, doesn’t it get automatically protected?

          • Flo – to answer your question, it sounds like you are referring to the legal protection afforded a written work as a whole. But that doesn’t preclude someone from taking one or more recipes from the complete work. They just can’t reprint the work in its entirety, since there is considered to be artistic expression in the work as a whole. The component parts are still only partly protected.

            Nicole

      • au Qu’e9bec nous mangeons les galettes sarrasin sans lait et oeufscomme ‘e0 l’ancienne recette de nos ancetres fran’e7ais

        • Hilda, Dianne, here’s a link toward a superb idea on Jenn’s Cuisine blog : jenncuisine.com/2012/02/naturally-gluten-free-roundup-2-february/
          A monthly round-up of NATURALLY gluten-free recipes.
          That’s honest! (+ a nice idea)

          Michsline, vous avez bien raison :)

          Dianne, commenters give the blog value only if the posts have enough value in themselves to attract valuable comments… :)

          • Thanks so much Flo for the mention! Like Shirley, I see immense value in sharing naturally gluten free recipes – I think there is still a lot of miseducation about what actually is gluten free – and while it may be obvious to us GF bloggers that an omelette is already GF, it may not be obvious at all to those who are new to GF and trying to find their way in a life without gluten. I do not find it lazy at all to say “hey look, did you know you can eat omelettes on a GF diet?? Here’s my favorite way of making them…” To me there is still the expression and story (and cooking and of course the lighting, styling, and photography) involved and a way to offer value to readers, which still involves a fair bit of work on my end, even if it is not all in the recipe development side.

            However, to get back to the issue of adaptions, for someone to switch out soy sauce for GF tamari in a stir fry and then say “oh look, I converted this recipe to gluten free, now it’s my original creation” I think would fall under the same issues as everyone else is discussing above.

            But because of the allergy slant, I would not feel comfortable merely linking to a gluten-containing recipe and telling someone to go switch out the soy sauce for GF tamari and just hoping that they remember and pray they don’t make themselves sick because they forgot my tip on altering that one ingredient. So I do see value in posting a recipe on my site so that I can include explicit instructions (and of course my own expression on the method) on how to make such a recipe safe for those on a GF diet. Though if no alterations are required, I will often just link to where I found the recipe and try to give the original source some traffic. It just seems to be good etiquette.

            As for a TV show? meh, classics are classics. It’s the personality that makes the show and I can’t believe Ina or Martha would actually claim to have invented that frosting or lemon bars. Besides isn’t a TV show the ultimate form of original expression for describing a method or preparing a dish?

          • One addendum, I should also add that no matter what, I believe in giving credit where it is due. But as many of us know all to well with photography, attribution is not a substitute for permission – even if a recipe is adapted in any way, I believe it still needs to be completely cited and rewritten in own words, not just copy/pasted unless one has received explicit permission to do so.

    • I think there is a difference between blogs and cookbooks. Someone pointed out to me a blogger’s recipe recently for a “Vegan BLT Sandwich” when, in fact, it was a BLT without the bacon! It was obvious that in this case adding Vegan to the title was totally gratuitous and just added to draw traffic. Ditto many gluten-free recipes on blogs. I find this rather disgraceful.

      On the other hand, I see no problem putting naturally gluten-free recipes in a cookbook if that cookbook is a collection of recipes aimed at giving the gluten-intolerant home cook recipes to follow; this could give the cook ideas for dishes and meals. I think we need to separate bloggers practices from cookbooks which are a limited collection of recipes with a certain theme or goal. IF, of course, the book is not only those naturally gluten-free recipes packaged in such a way to make people think it is something that it is not. Does this make sense?

      • Additionally, I suspect that many people who hardly ever cooked before suddenly have to teach themselves after being diagnosed with a gluten (or other) intolerance/allergy. So these budding cooks have to learn about both naturally allergen-free foods and adapted ones at the same time. A book that would encompass both and offer a well-rounded look at what you can cook for yourself on a something-free diet would sound like a good choice for that particular audience.

  20. There were several bloggers contacted by David Whitehouse. One of his concerns, which is being glossed-over, is that if too many recipes in Dan Lepard’s book are reproduced by bloggers, even with credit and attribution and links etc., then why would anyone buy the book?

    • I have heard that argument before. No one is going to print out all the recipes from different blogs and think that is better than owning his book.

    • A friend of mine also bewailed this about her own cookbook. She and her family counted on and needed the money made from the sale of her cookbook to make ends meet and knew that if all the recipes were made by bloggers (someone had created a group cooking and blogging their way through her cookbook) and posted online for free she feared that no one would buy the book. Domenica pointed out the publicity/marketing value of having some bloggers review the book and post a recipe yet there may be a fine line between publicity value and just giving the book away for free.

      • I’m with Domenica. A group of bloggers trying her recipes could generate enormous publicity for the book.

        • It’s fantastic publicity as long as the group members don’t post all the recipes in a single place, or in a way that makes it easy to collect/find them all. This is the rule that the Tuesdays with Dorie group and the Bread Baker’s Apprentice group seem to have followed, and it feels fair to the authors and publishers of the books.

          I agree that some people will always want to own the book, even if all the recipes are out there for free, but I believe an increasing number of would-be buyers won’t value the photos and headnotes highly enough to spend money on the book if they can cook from it for free…

          • If someone has put all the recipes from a cookbook online, they can be sued because it is a collection, which is copyrightable. But usually we are talking about a few dozen recipes at most. I hope it’s not enough to discourage people from buying the book.

          • Then again, someone posted fifty-seven recipes from my first book on a single recipe-sharing site, and my publisher’s legal department said there was nothing to be done as long as they hadn’t also posted the photos and headnotes…

          • Ack! What a trial for you, Clotilde, and how frustrating to see your work reproduced elsewhere. Maybe you have no legal standing, but you could shame them and make their life hell. How about that?

  21. A lot of these recipes have come from original classics that have been passed down over hundreds of years. For example, the jams, and ratios of sugar to fruit to pectin etc – who owns that? Nobody. it’s too long ago really to figure out who invented it. But if I made my own jam and someone came and accused me of ripping off their jam – well they are ripping off someone else’s jam and so forth. Noone owns anything, it’s all been done before. So yes, if you are actually using someone’s recipe, credit it, note your changes. But if you are doing your own take on a classic – it’s fair game.

    • Your own take on a classic is about the way you write the recipe and what you bring to it. It is not about copying someone else’s recipe and making small changes.

  22. Great read! You always discuss the most informative important topics

  23. It’s all been done before.
    Ina, Ray, Stewart, all got lucky.
    Absolutely ridiculous that she should be punished for this.. Next she will be sued for copyright infringement. What about Mario Batali? What about David Rocco? Recipes based on tradition? Shall we punish them for copying our ancestors?

    • As others have said, her show was probably cancelled because of ratings, primarily. This just added fuel to the fire.

      Re “done before,” I agree that the recipes she copied probably weren’t original. But in my view, that doesn’t give her license to copy them so closely.

  24. I run a cookbook club called Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club and write an accompanying blog. I always ask permission of the publisher (or author if he/she owns the rights) to publish recipes from the book the club has picked. Once I was declined. (I was told the author doesn’t like blogs and doesn’t want her work to appear in blogs.) I looked around online and found other bloggers who had posted recipes from the same book, unadapted and sometimes attributed, sometimes not. What ran through my head momentarily was “if they’re doing it, why can’t I?” Of course, I didn’t because I don’t want to go down that road. Without the system and checks of old-fashioned publishing–pre-self-publishing and pre-blogging–in place, without publishing contracts having been signed (which hold the author responsible for plaigurism), with the ease of copying and pasting combined with either ignorance or willfull unethical behavior, it seems the lax attitude of “Everyone is doing it, so it must be okay . . .” will continue for some time. Probably not enough people realize that a true adaptation involves some sort of substantial change, and even then the key original source/inspiration should be mentioned. Education is key.

    • You said it, Holly. Education is key.

      What you are talking about is publishing a recipe verbatim, which requires permission and credit, even if recipes can’t be copyrighted. It is just the ethical thing to do.

    • One of the first food blogs I ever read (and loved) was Homesick Texan. Lisa Fain’s policy is that you cannot reproduce any of her recipes, whether you attribute or not. She asks you to link back without posting the recipe (as per the kitchn) or completely rewrite the recipe.

      This is her policy and I respect that. No one who reads it can say they didn’t know any better. And I still love her blog. But it’s not something I would do myself, and that’s fine too. My blog is licenced under a creative commons attribution non-commercial licence because that aligns with my values. I am happy to share content because I see that as the whole point of blogging and the internet more broadly, but then again, I am not a renowned cookbook author and my blog generates no income whatsoever.

      • She was not always a renowned cookbook author, and I bet she has to spend lots of time going after people who steal her recipes anyway. I suspect all successful food bloggers do. It sounds like you respect her for doing it her way, however, and you do it yours.

  25. After reading all of the comments from this incredibly hot topic, I agree that this issue isn’t going away soon. I also believe that there are new recipes to be developed. I strive to create a unique cooking, eating, sharing experience and this takes research. Anyone who wants to be taken as a serious writer or blogger knows this. In my experience as a young food writer trying to break into the publishing world, I’ve found that original recipes are the ones that will get the most consideration for publication. Even then, you need a compelling reason, pictures, lede with hook, a blog and clips to get noticed in our food-crazed society. Inspiration comes from within, other recipes, experiences and more. It seems like it’s a matter of ethics as well as a need for change in US copywrite law, not to mention this issue was brought about because of a lemon bar. Isn’t there more to write about?

    • Oh yes, there’s lots more to write about. I never run out of material, actually.

      You sound like someone who has been successfully published, Maureen, and knows what’s involved. It’s a lot more complicated than copying someone else’s recipe.

  26. Exhausting! But so relevant. It is sad but I guess necessary that we are looking over our shoulders all the time, even when we are trying our best to be honest and straightforward. I haven’t much to add that hasn’t already been said (!) but will share an interesting quote that I found, xeroxed and saved from about 20 years ago (did not note source!) It is from notable British food writer Jane Grigson in a letter to “Eleo” dated March 3, 1990:

    “Yes, of course. I really do not mind if anyone uses any of my recipes, so long as there’s an acknowledgement.

    In fact, surely anyone can use anyone’s recipe, so long as they rewrite it, with or without acknowledgment? I rather deplore the habit that has grown up of having to write round to ask permission–it adds to the labour of the book and fulfills no legal obligation. In fact, the person quoted ought to be grateful for the free publicity, and humbly recollect the number of times they have pilfered from fellow writers past and present. In cooking, originality is rare, it’s all a matter of adjustment and balance and I certainly did not invent moules farcies. I suppose the honour ought to go to Melanie, that Breton cook discoverd by Curonsky, and her prairies farcies which has become a standard dish of French cookery outside Brittany as well, and which has been adapted to mussels/oysters/other clams.”

    This issue will persist, obviously!

    • How lovely to have this quote from Grigson. The key is that she asked people to rewrite her recipe in their own words. Thornton did not do so with hers.

  27. It would be brashly arrogant for one to think that they’ve come up with a creative idea in these modern days. I have seen blatant plagiarizing when researching a particular food on the net, right down to the same picture with no credit to the original author on any post. When I watch television, I’m looking for a personality. I could really care less if Ina or Martha or Julia or whoever has used the recipe before, and quite frankly, have never watched or read anything completely original from any of the fore-mentioned, what I’m looking for is someone who sparks my curiosity, or maybe someone who is a great story teller, or someone who sparks my own creativity, or shares a similar world view, or is just so different enough from my self that I want to learn more about their ways. I think that this whole plagiarizing nonsense has more to do with the unfortunate process that led to a show that lacked UUUMPH… that’s my ten cents.

  28. I feel we are pioneering the practices stemming from cyber population of recipes and food knowledge. This has had such a massive impact on sharing of food information in all forms, getting a footing with regard to ’91legality’ and frankly etiquette feels at times as awkward as watching a teenager’s First Date! I appreciate published author’s feeling a heightened ownership of a recipe they’ve toiled to publish. In reading all of this I feel there is a future career for a lawyer-food historian hybrid, seriously, as so many arguments are predicated on ’91who came first’. Somewhere in this too I feel is a role for ’91intent’. Completely intangible but as in all human dealings it makes a determination about whether something contains practices of malice or merely na’efve/innocent choices. I know for me when having experienced these types of ’91infractions’ I can always feel the difference and it usually implies how it becomes resolved.

    Thanks as always Dianne for stoking the fires of our thinking. These grass roots discussions are what will shape how this type of information is managed going forward.

  29. From my point of view as as a food writer I think it is quite rare that we really create new recipes without inspiration from previous and/ or other work. Mostly it is new ways to prepare dishes ex reducing fat etc. I learned from the book of Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane L. Baker The recipe writer’s handbook, which I learned a lot about my craft as well as your book Dianne and follow their guidelines. Quote “>The general rule of thumb is that three major changes are required to make a recipe “yours”. However, even if you make such changes, it is professionnal courtesy to aknowledge the source of inspiration of a recipe”. What I noticed are cookbook authors that have few or no aknowledge in their book and I do not agree with this practice.

    Thanks for this interesting topic will come back to read all comments on the subject

    Micheline

    • Thanks Micheline. Cookbook authors don’t put that kind of thing in their acknowledgements section, I suspect because the list would be too long. But certainly, they should mention the “original” author in the headnote, if it is an adapted recipe.

      BTW, the rule of “three major changes” needs more explanation. The changes Thornton made were minor.

      • Agree with you 3 changes need more explanation. In the 2 cases you brought I am sorry for them . The first might have been clear she was more copying than adapting but blogger it doesnt look as copying. Long time ago I read it is instructions that are the soul and can be copyrighted of the recipe. The success of the recipe is there when all details are there In the second case if 3 ingredients are changed then it becomes another recipe the taste will be different! Ex.coconut…

  30. I’m so impressed with the intelligence and respect with which this issue is being discussed on this blog. I don’t have a blog, and have no plans on creating one, so this issue does not affect me personally. I can still say, I get so much out of reading this blog and everyones experiences.

    • Elizabeth, thank you so much for noticing how smart and respectful my commenters are. Still, it’s amazing to me that you want to read this blog!

  31. I find this particular post very intriguing. Very recently, I was looking for a recipe with choco espresso beans and came across one at 101cookbooks.com. I read over the recipe and realized that I didn’t have many of the ‘organic’ ingredients and thought about scrapping the idea. I looked it over again, tweaked the recipe with my ingredients and made it…the cookies came out delicious. When I blogged about it, I mentioned where I found the recipe and how I revised it. I think it is alright as long as you cite the original and share your own thoughts on it.
    My two cents is that when using recipes that aren’t our own, it’s good to cite the original and state how we either improved or made it our own so it’s not considered plagiarism. You never know when it might come back to bite you.

    Here’s my post link (http://tinyurl.com/7t2eu73) let me know what you think. Learning is caring.

  32. Dianne,
    I didn’t mean to imply that this topic is not worthy of discussion as per my comment above. As always, I think your topics are timely, interesting and informative. The rhetorical question I posted, “Isn’t there more to write about?” was in reference to lemon bars.

  33. Thanks, Dianne, for posting such an interesting and timely topic. As a freelance writer about to start a food blog, I was very interested to read all the comments. I n the blog, I intend to write about my experiences living in the Middle East over 25 years and the local food that I cooked from traditional recipes that I was given – usually without precise measurements. I assume that I won’t be in breach of anyone’s copyright, i.e. food writers who have also published those traditional recipes (I’m based in the UK).

    • You will probably find dozens of recipes for dishes you will make, Moira. But if you start from your own experience, and put that on the page rather than changing someone else’s recipe, you are going in the right direction.

  34. People live for drama. I think we need to get over it… they’re lemon squares, for god’s sake. Most recipes are so similarly that it could be argued that they’re ALL derivative, even though the author of one likely has no knowledge of the author of another. I mean, if you were to compare Martha’s and Ina’s lemon square recipes, they’d probably be similar, too. Does that mean they plagiarized each other? No, of course not.

    This whole thing is completely ridiculous. As long as someone links back to me, I don’t care who takes what.

    • To qualify that last statement:

      As long as someone links back to me *and isn’t making any money off of it, besides basic blogger ad revenue,* I don’t care who takes what.

    • I agree with part of what you’re saying, Steph. The outrage was ridiculous. But the issue of copying someone else’s work — pretty much verbatim — is not. And even though you don’t mind if someone does it to you, you still have conditions of what would be acceptable.

  35. What an interesting discussion. I agree with Barbara, most hobby bloggers are recounting and sharing their experiences with food, and that is what makes them interesting. Recipes themselves are nearly always a variation of an original, it is all about finding clever ways to do things, or having a fresh approach. If I use a recipe that was my mother’s or grandmother’s, I regard it as a family recipe, but for all I know she could have got it out of the Women’s Weekly 50 years ago!
    I was shocked last year to see a recipe for pavlova by a very famous and highly regarded Australian cook that had literally been copied word for word from a recipe by NIgella Lawson, except one ingredient had been swapped for another. It was outright plagiarism notably because Nigella has such a distinctive writing style. I guess people shouldn’t mind if credits and acknowledgements are noted, it is all free publicity!

    • Yes definitely, your grandmother could have clipped the recipe. I know someone who was told by her publisher to find the origin of more than 500 recipes like that, submitted to her by family members. Can you imagine?

      Recipes copied word for word are very easy to spot. That’s what people need to avoid. I hope the cook went after Lawson.

  36. Holy smokes Dianne, did you light a fire with this one. Great discussion on a sticky subject.

    Many of the comments I found myself nodding in agreement. As a blogger and a chef, it’s difficult. I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought I’d blog on something I make, never having looked at anyones recipes, only to find it’s been done before or done recently, so I pass. Or I’m thinking of posting one of my recipes and see something similar on the cover of a magazine. Sigh. Pass. Unless I have a unique spin. And with the seasons we are so often in the same mode with ingredients or styles of dishes. With the number of blogs and all these days it’s crazy.

    Truly original these days is tough. If we look hard enough, we will find many recipes for just what we thought was “our original”. We all were influenced by many cooks, cookbooks, chefs, teachers, moms, family and friends and more beyond that. Our value may be our take on a recipe, the variation, our photographs, our process, our helpful notes to make someone else successful making it, and yes, changes to ingredients for a reason. Maybe then we are making a difference. Not just making some tiny change to pass it off as your own work. That is unethical.

    I once called Ina Garten’s office about proper attribution, wanting to do the right thing. I had started with one of her recipes after doing some research for a soup. They were great to talk with, and I felt better just making the call. I did make changes per the soup I’d had in Italy, but her recipe gave me the foundation, and I wrote about that.

    I identified with Beth’s comment about coming up with a recipe in her head, then finding three just like it. I also really appreciated both Deb’s and Nancie’s takes, as they are both veterans. I am always careful to provide proper attribution to those who have inspired me. Tough and touchy subject. Really good to discuss. Thank you, as always.

    • Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Sally. I like the story about calling Ina Garten’s office. What I take away is that you are cognizant of the challenges and you are trying to do the right thing. That’s the best possible approach.

  37. I always give credit where credit is due on my blog, even though I often make changes to a recipe or even combine or am inspired by several different recipes when I develop something for my blog. But unless I am specifically reviewing a cookbook that I received from the author, I never think to ask the author if it is okay to put this or that recipe on the blog. For the Huffington Post, it is another story. The few times I’ve posted a recipe directly from a cookbook, I have contacted and asked the author for permission, most recently for my posting of a Red Velvet Cake from one of Joan Nathan’s cookbooks. A couple of months later I posted a cake I baked from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum and gave it full credit although I hadn’t thought to contact Ms. Beranbaum. Two things happened. I was contacted (privately) by a publicist from The Cake Bible’s publishing company asking me to please contact them in the future if I wanted to post another recipe from the book. He pointed out that it was purely for copyright reasons and they needed to make sure that it was a recipe that I was allowed to republish; on the other hand, he said that they were thrilled that I had indeed wanted to recreate and publish one of the recipes from the cookbook on Huff Post and hoped that I would do it again in the future. I also received another email about the Red Velvet Cake from Joan Nathan’s cookbook from the chef who had actually created the recipe (which is noted in Joan’s book) but who I forgot to mention. When I had asked Joan permission to reprint the recipe, she didn’t think to point out that it was not her original recipe (well, it was there in the book for me to see!), so I just didn’t think to mention the chef. But once again, the chef wanted to take credit for the original recipe but was also thrilled that the cake had such a special meaning for me that I had wanted to post the recipe on Huff Post; in fact, she wanted to tell my story to those to whom she served this cake in the future. So, as a blogger, I tend to see things the way Domenica does, that reposting a recipe is actually good (and free) publicity for the author of the cookbook, and from these two situations I pointed out, the cookbook authors do, too. As a blogger, I have no control over whether or not my readers credit me with the recipe or the original author – although I do often make the effort to write a paragraph about the cookbook and author rather than simply mentioning it in a byline.

    On the other hand, this is a complicated situation, because when does a recipe become our own? Classics like chocolate chip cookies, chicken soup, whatever, a variation can only go so far…and if we google the recipe, as did Barb with her salad, we get millions of results and they are almost all the same. Like the lemon bars. It is indeed a sticky problem and one that is difficult to answer.

    And personally, I agree with Stephanie, that strictly in the world of food blogging, there are a lot more things we should be discussing than copying recipes.

    • Thanks for this long comment, Jamie. Yes, to publish a recipe verbatim from a book, you need permission. I know you said that we shouldn’t be talking about copying recipes, but there is still a lot of confusion about what should be done and how. Even you have admitted to this, in this post.

      So, what are these things we should be discussing? I’m all ears.

  38. Most everything has already been said.

    Just a couple things to add.

    First, when someone rips off my stuff, and plays it off as their own, it triggers more of an existential crisis than anything else. If someone can play off my work as their own, who needs me? It’s not rational, but there it is.

    Second, as a lawyer turned food blogger and cookbook author, I understand the applicable law at this point well enough. Much of it isn’t protected, but a good deal is. But I have come to the conclusion that the law barely matters in this instance. Are you really going to sue?

    It’s the ethics. When we focus on the legalities, it’s not because we think we’re going to sue or be sued. It’s because we are in search of a dispassionate rendition of morality, and it seems like it might be lovely if the law took care of that for us. Laws often represent a collective expression of morality. In this case, in the name of encouraging innovation and creativity, the intellectual property laws fall far short of that. So we’ll just have to figure it out for ourselves.

    Nicole

    • Oh, very good to know you are a lawyer, Nicole. That might come in handy.

      I don’t think much sueing is going on. We are trying to come to consensus on what is ethical and moral — as you say.

      Also, I hope you contacted the people who are ripping off your recipes.

  39. I cannot tell a lie–no way could I wade through every line of every comment. All I kept thinking about was the chocolate birthday cake I have been making since my children were very little. It was and will always be called “Ruth’s chocolate cake with June’s frosting.” I’ve shared the recipe with countless people through the years and when I include it in my own cookbook, will I be called upon to justify its origin?

    Similarly, I made up a recipe for Long Island Potato Bread for a Long Island Women in Action conference in 1972. The program included the recipe. You can see where this is going. The bread is really good and worthy of a page in my cookbook. Has anyone published it in the intervening years? I haven’t a clue.

    Is there really anything new under the sun? And all this fuss over lemon bars. For heavens sake, you can make decent lemon bars from a box.

    To me a cookbook (or a blog) is a narrative, a very personal collection describing how each recipe was born and grew, how to recreate it, and how one led to another. I read cookbooks and blogs as if they were creative writing. Sometimes I even try the recipes. Are we really supposed to come up with totally original recipes? Isn’t a banana sometimes just a banana?

    • Yeah, I don’t blame you, Joanne — this post has caused some excitement.

      I don’t know if you will have to justify your chocolate cake recipe. If you write it in your own words, with your own headnote and method, chances are reduced.

      It’s the writing that needs to be original, first of all. When you publish a recipe that you have copied word-for-word and make only minor changes, everyone can see what you’ve done. And secondly, I see no reason to publish a recipe that is just like dozens of other recipes out there. What is the point?

  40. [...] their own. This discussion is occurring all over Twitter, probably thousands of blogs, FB, etc. Click here to see a well articulated article and about 60 odd ensuing [...]

  41. Gee, this topic really gets people going. Keeping in mind that recipes can’t be copyrighted, Google has more than 3 million hits for sweet potato brownies. Didn’t read them all.

    • It does, doesn’t it? Yes, I’m aware of the copyright law and there is a link to the US copyright office in the post. Three million hits for sweet potato brownies! Incredible. Thanks for that little tidbit.

    • Wow – 3 million?! That should keep Mr Whitehouse busy for quite some time. ;-)

  42. Maybe this link could interest you? : about Pinterest and copyright : http://mbesseteaux.visibli.com/share/g5WNdv

  43. In one of Martha Stewarts books – I think it was about entertaining – there was a piece of paper inserted informing readers that one of her Asian recipes was lifted from Barbara Tropp’s book.

  44. thank you for sharing article! this post has caused some excitement. Is there really anything new under the sun? And all this fuss over lemon bars. For heavens sake, you can make decent lemon bars from a box.looking forward to all the good things your blog shares
    f1 ’81’42
    f0

  45. There are no originals here. We are all trying to better ourselves by emulating and being inspired by people better than us. That is how we grow. In my opinion, if the TV show presenter had acknowledged that she was inspired by a few recipes and given the originals due credit, it would have not created such a stir. Having said that, these days, people are only waiting to to sue the others. As a food blogger, I sometimes cook from cook books and sometimes feel inspired from other food bloggrs and I ALWAYS link back. But I guess I am not important enough to be sued :D
    Everybody is trying to use any incident as an opportunity to derive some benefit out of it.

    • Yes, true. I used the incident to start a discussion. But I think people who start with one recipe and then make a few adjustments are setting themselves up. That is what happened to Thornton. If she did it on a blog and linked back, I don’t think the reaction from her superiors would have been much different.

  46. This is a topic that always seems to get people fired up. So I have seen my versions of recipes, pretty much everywhere, and then I have seen people add a teaspoon of black pepper to something I wrote, and then called it their own. I find this amusing, and well annoying. Link to me, and write well, I’ll most likely put you in my blog roll.
    Personally I think some recipes work because of their ratios. I don’t think any one of us is likely to come up with something so terminally unique that we will be the first creator of this recipe.
    Great topic ;)
    I am looking forward for your post on pinterest. I think it is a boon to much of our traffic, but the way they play with copyrighting your material makes them a rose with many thorns.

    • I hope you start a conversation with those people, Stephanie! You can educate them. I agree that many recipes work because of ratios. Hence the popularity of Ruhlman’s book, eh?

      Re Pinterest, I don’t know enough to start a discussion yet. Will work on it.

  47. WOW! I was here on Thursday, but it appears that the comments doubled since? I guess this topic really touched a soft spot in all of us (even though I am not a recipe developer)? The reason I did not leave a comment on Thursday is, because the topic intrigued me so much that I decided to check into it a bit deeper (that is due to my research background) and make a post of it.
    I really enjoyed my search; it is quite interesting how most of the regulations create more problems than solve them. If you have nothing to do during a night, please go ahead and read my post. It will do wonders for your sleeping difficulties.
    There are two people that I used their comments in my article (Joanne Gruskin and Donata Thomas); I trust you will not sue me. Anyway, this is a belated request for permission. Otherwise, I just used your comments in my recipe and with these texts I may have a shot to copyright it.

    • I love that my post inspired you to write one as well, Jayne. Regarding the comment, I suppose there was no way to link to it directly, so I suppose it was okay.

  48. Hi Dianne,

    Thanks for your response. As you know, your posts are one of the most informative, educational and entertaining articles on the Internet for authors (and potential authors), food writers (or other writers, as well), chefs, food bloggers, publishers, culinary institutes and students, or anybody associated with the culinary industry. If there is an Oscar in the food industry you would get the “best up-to-date information provider” award.
    Aside from this, did you read the post? Any opinion? I still see people making very strong statements about the “no-way” copyrighting recipes. I’d like to reiterate: YES YOU CAN. Just remember this: If there is a will – there is a way.

    Jayne G

    • Okay, Jayne. I can tell you are buttering me up. Thank you. Yes, I enjoyed the post. I left you a comment about it.

  49. Well, it wasn’t my intention to begin an international debate when I took a stand to protect myself, but it seems there’s plenty of life left in this subject yet. It is wonderful to see so many writers and bloggers engaged by this issue and prepared to give it the same amount of thought I did when I adapted Dan Lepard’s recipe and published my version on my blog.
    Clearly, this is not an issue that will lie down any time soon, but so long as bloggers mind the copyright laws and consider their ethical obligations, they should (hopefully) be on fairly firm legal grounds. However, I suspect there will always be those who disagree.

    • Yes, the people who comment here and on your blog seem to be doing the right thing. Now if I could get the other thousands of food bloggers as readers…

      It’s a complicated issue, so there’s still room for disagreement and sorting out.

  50. This is such a hot topic lately, isn’t it? There are so many bloggers out there who either adapt recipes or just re-print them entirely. I think most of this is lack of knowledge about what’s right and what’s not on the Internet. Most think that if they provide a link to the source or if they change something slightly, all is a-okay. I did this in the beginning too, not knowing any better. I don’t quite understand the bloggers who DO know better- who make quite a nice living off of adapting other people’s recipes and who are praised and adored by their readers for sharing such great recipes (when the recipes are not even theirs to begin with!)

    It’s tough not to be inspired by what you see on blogs, in magazines, in cookbooks and on TV. My favorite thing to do is read through a stack of chocolate chip cookie recipes in my files, and then sit down and write my own based on what I’ve just read. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being inspired by methods and ingredients and coming up with your own mix of that. And I believe that a true adaptation is really changing the recipe (ingredients, method AND outcome- even changing the name) to make it your own.

    When writing a recipe for my cookbook recently, I wrote an appetizer recipe off the top of my head, then googled my title and found that Giada had an appetizer almost exactly the same as the one I had just written. Of course I felt that I had to change that recipe quite a bit- for fear of people thinking that I must have copied it from Giada! Crazy.

    • Lori, you have explained it perfectly. When you come up with your own recipe you don’t have to credit the authors of the 17 recipes you looked at — unless of course, one of them uses a particular technique or ingredient that has set a new standard, and you want to use it too. Then you can say “inspired by.”

      I am not sure that the process of adapting is only used by new bloggers. I can understand why they do it in the beginning, if they don’t know any better. But as they progress, surely their recipe creation skills progress as well.

      That is maddening about finding your idea online already, but it happens, just the way you’ve described it. I’m glad it doesn’t stop you.

  51. Very interesting thread and one which is close to my heart as I often adapt a recipe into a gluten free one, but always always mention the original source. Now on to Mr. Lepard. I met him many years ago when he taught at Baker and Spice. I paid to go on a baking course and I am still scarred by the experience. Here is a guy who hates sharing information and was so protective of everything he taught us on the day that he refused to give us the recipes! When some of us asked questions, he refused to answer them on the grounds that he would be giving away his secrets. Fast forward, now having written a successful baking book, he goes after someone who has adapted a recipe which although completely altered in process he still considers his even though he probably adapted it from someone else. I am still picking up the pieces from a gluten free bread recipe he printed in the Guardian several years ago, where it looks like they used a photograph for a traditional loaf and passed it off as a gluten free bread. One lady spent ages trying to get the recipe to work and finally gave up after the 10th attempt. She was so demoralised by the experience and practically in tears. I took one look at the recipe and could see immediately that this man did not understand gluten free bread making. Perhaps he’s picked up a few tips from others along the way. Let’s hope he has learned from his own experience to share and acknowledge other’s contributions.

    • How odd that he refused to share the recipes in a cooking class, but after you describe how protective he is, it makes sense. That happened to me recently, and I complained and received the recipes from the cooking class event’s organizers. The teacher had decided we should all buy her cookbooks (over $100 combined) if we wanted the recipes she demonstrated.

      That is a sad story about the gluten-free bread. It may not have been his decision to use that photo, though. I say that as a former– and very young– newspaper editor who probably made a ton of mistakes.

  52. [...] is not – after a bit of a side tangent discussion on Dianne Jacob’s recent post about recipe adaptions, I decided that this topic needed a bit more attention. Flo made a comment about recipe [...]

  53. [...] fracas caused a minor stir and was written about by several others, including Dianne Jacobs from Will Write For Food, who managed to find a very similar recipe to Lepards which actually predated his by two [...]

  54. I have more of a question to ask instead of a comment. I am working on creating a blog doing one now as a little hobby but would like to develop it more and see where it goes. So my question is from what I’ve read so far is that a list of ingredients is not copyrighted so if I was to say watch a show like chopped and use the ingredients they have in the boxes it would not be considered copyright infringment, but only if I made the same thing as one of the chefs and tried to pass it off as my own would it then be copyright infringement?

  55. [...] has been a topic of discussion on Twitter and at Dianne Jacob’s website (here, here, and here) about this, and I don’t know what’s right. There are only so many recipes for any one [...]

  56. Just be glad no one has tried to trademark the term “lemon bars.” ha ha. (There are many terms you would consider generic that have been trademarked and trademark owners DO go after them… (entrepreneur, urban homesteading for example)

    • I was later struck by the idea of comparing how to grow food with how to cook it. Other than GMO stuff, (which is a whole ‘nother issue) I’m not aware of any gardeners trying to protect their “ideas” on how to grow food–and there are lots of unique ideas, from square foot gardening to how to grow vertically to how to extend the seasons, how to blanch things like asparagus, cauliflower, celery (and blogs on all of them I might add). I would be curious if you all see parallels. Would you all be upset if someone baked one of your recipes and sold it at a bake sale? Would they need to credit you? Or do you not care about the finished product and any profit that might be had that way?

      • No, I would not be upset at all. The issue is with someone publishing a recipe, not making it. It’s not about profit either, since there’s so little to be made!

    • That would be terrible!

  57. [...] fine, right? If you re-write the instructions and headnote, all’s good, right? Here’s a great post by Dianne Jacob warning of the dangers we could face for adaptation. So to be safe (and maybe even ethical) we need to go beyond just adapting a bit. We probably also [...]

  58. I had some phyllo dough, some leftover deli roast beef I wanted to use up, some spinach and some feta — pretty traditional combo, no? I put them together into a big “pie” (plus garlic, onions etc.), baked it and took it to a potluck dinner. One of the guests came up to ask me who had brought the bourek. Now I’d heard of bourek, but I’d never tasted it. Excited, I asked him to show me where it was. He took me over and pointed to my “pie.” Plagiarism? I don’t think so, but if I put that in a cookbook, someone, with an agenda, could make a big stink about it.

    Clearly, someone here had an agenda. Someone(s) else at the Network had a serious case of the PCs and didn’t have the cojones to stand up for their chef, and so a budding career is shot down. Ditto for the food blogger. Someone needs more to do with their time or maybe buy their tighty-whities a size or two larger. And the Network needs to man up instead of throwing their people to the wolves.

    It would be ridiculous to even use the fudge of “adapted from” because, hello?!?, there are a million lemon bar recipes out there.

    Sheesh.

    • Hah, that is so typical! Here you thought you’d come up with something special. Re your points, yes, I agree completely. Thanks for the comment.

      • Not special, just some fairly standard elements that used up my leftovers. Who knew? I made a Bourek. Stuff like that happens all the time to people who cook a lot. There’s only so many ways you can combine a set of ingredients.

        And I’ve had entire posts from my old food blog stolen, so I am sensitive to the issue, from both sides.

  59. [...] many critics, one of the major concerns around the changing blogosphere (see Matchar, Hilgenberg, Jacob, and Rousseau) is the issue of authenticity. Part of what makes a blog so appealing to readers [...]

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